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Overview of Topic Selection

Trying to decide what to write can be difficult and frustrating. Your professor will usually provide a general topic that reflects the course material; but you will be required to focus on some aspect of that topic. It is up to you to decide the angle to take. Before continuing, please read the following general concepts about choosing research topics.

Getting ideas for your topic.

Course material: Go back over lecture notes or textbook chapters to find a topic.
Brainstorming: Take the general topic and create a concept map for it. From there you may find some aspect of the topic you would like to explore.
News: Yahoo News, CNN.com, local broadcast news all cover recent events and may peek your interest for further exploration of the story.
Internet: There are many reliable educational and current event resources available on the Web that are excellent sources of ideas for selecting research topics. Keep in mind that because of the open nature of the Web, many resources vary in quality.

Choose an interesting topic.

There is more motivation to do a research assignment if there is genuine interest in the topic. If the research assignment is unrestricted, relate the topic to some personal experience or issue of personal relevance. If you have no personal interest in the assigned topic, pick an aspect of the topic you are curious to know more about.

Narrow your topic.

Depending upon the subject and required length of a research assignment, be careful not to choose a topic that is too broad in scope. Focus on a particular event, time, person or group, and/or place.

Example Topic: "The US Space Program"

The US Space Program has existed for over 50 years and covers far too many subjects. The topic would be too general and broad to research and cover in a short paper of 5-10 pages. Instead, it would be necessary to narrow the focus of the topic to some smaller aspect or element of the program.

Example Topic: "The Challenger Disaster and its Impact on the Shuttle Program."

The topic has been narrowed and is more manageable because it focuses on a particular event the tragedy of the Challenger Shuttle on January 28th 1986. Narrowing your topic also gives you more effective search terms with which to work from. For example for the Challenger Disaster narrowing the topic will result in terms such as O-Ring, Teacher in Space Project, the Rogers Commission, all of which would come to forefront with just a small search into the particular topic.

Broaden your topic.

If you are required to write a long paper, there should be enough information available about the topic for the paper to be comprehensive. If an obscure person, event, or subject is chosen as the basis for a research topic, it may be difficult finding relevant and accessible material to do effective research.

Example Topic: "How does the Aurora Colorado shooting fit into the discussion of gun violence in the city of Aurora during the summer of 2012?"

While the shooting of Aurora Colorado moviegoers does deserve serious discussion it is unlikely that a large amount of information is to be found regarding the uptake of gun violence just in the city of Aurora during 2012.  You will need to broaden the focus of to include a broader sense such as a national discussion of gun violence preceeding the shooting in order to write an effective paper.

Example Topic: "How the Aurora Colorado Massacre Impacts the Discussion of Gun Violence in the United States."

Altering the focus of the subject matter from one person or issue to some larger aspect of the person or issue (Gun Violence), expands the scope of the topic so that more relevant and scholarly information can be found. 

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